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All change this year as we find ourselves upon the first World Golf Championship event of the 2017 season with Trump Doral rather ironically being dumped in favour of a new venue to the PGA Tour in Mexico. Cadillac have also been replaced as the tournament sponsors to create the re-named WGC Mexico Championship courtesy of a 7-year deal with retail giant Grupo Salinas. In reality we've been spoilt since 2007 with this fixture having stayed at Doral for so long in both its pre-and-post renovation guises as prior to that the event had been far more nomadic. The upshot of all of this is that with the Club de Golf Chapultepec we're effectively starting from a blank canvas as only a smattering of Mexican Opens and senior events have graced this piece of land in recent years.
With only Jason Day (illness) missing from the golfing elite, we have an incredibly strong field lined up here in Mexico City despite a few noises being made relating to safety and security. Newly crowned World No.1 Dustin Johnson heads the betting at 7/1 from Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy who'll be testing his fitness after pulling out of recent events with a rib injury, however with the likes of Hideki Matsuyama, Henrik Stenson and last week's winner Rickie Fowler just behind the top 3 in the betting we have an intriguing battle ahead of us this week.
As well as the WGC this week, we also have the Tshwane Open - you can read my preview of that event here.
Club de Golf Chapultepec. Designer: Willie & Alex Smith, 1921. Course Type: Classical, Altitude; Par: 71; Length: 7,330 yards; Fairways/Rough: Kikuyu; Greens: Bent/Poa, 12-13 on the stimpmeter.
Course Overview. The course has a classical, old-style feel to it with its narrow, tree-lined fairways and small greens. Players have commented that it feels very much like a tight Spanish or Italian track in terms of its characteristics, however at over 7,000 feet of elevation the altitude will add another dimension to this week with balls flying at least 10% further than at sea level if not slightly more. So a 7,330 yardage could read closer to 6,500 yards which makes this a course that should reap birdies and eagles for those players who can keep the ball in play from off the tee. Oscar Alvarez shot -17/271 on his way to winning here at the Mexican Open in 2014 and despite the shot taken off of par for this week's event, I would suspect that the winning score will be in that region once again this week if not lower still with a decent enough weather forecast.
If we're reading metres as yards for simplicity when factoring in the altitude here then the par-4 1st at 289 metres will have the longer hitters reaching for driver and the par-5 8th (480 metres) and 15th (526 metres) should also present strong scoring opportunities for the whole field, however this style of course tend to require a little more patience, strategy and control than just whipping out driver and smashing the ball at every opportunity. The wayward will be punished on this tree-lined layout and proximity to the hole will be key to success on approaches with the greens reportedly running very fast which could lead to 3-putt trouble for those who are regularly putting from distance.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's WGC Mexico Championship that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event. Please note that these stats are all for the WGC when it was held at Doral, dating back to 2007, so should be considered accordingly for this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
DraftKings Predictor Model: For those of you who play DraftKings there's now a dedicated predictor model available here.
Winners & Prices. 2016: Adam Scott, 12/1; 2015: Dustin Johnson, 22/1; 2014: Patrick Reed, 80/1; 2013: Tiger Woods, 12/1; 2012: Justin Rose, 66/1; 2011: Nick Watney, 20/1; 2010: Ernie Els, 40/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 6 years based on the completed 2016 schedule click here; For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 6 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Mexico City is here. A dry start to the event with light to moderate winds at worst and the outside chance of some rain towards the end of play on Sunday. Temperatures will peak around the mid-70s Fahrenheit.
With little to go on here other than raw specification, we'll need to be a little more creative in trying to work out who will feature here on Sunday. The tight, tree-lined but scoreable layout likens this very much to an Italian Open style of course in my view and in that respect it may well favour the European players who've had more exposure to those kind of conditions over the years. The altitude gives us another angle to attack as some players simply don't get the maths and can misjudge shots in these conditions, however it will considerably shorten the course which plays into the hands of aggressive players who can keep the ball in play. The greens are reportedly in very good condition and running fast which will also benefit some players, particularly those with a liking for bent/poa putting surfaces.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below - some bookmakers are offering slight enhancements despite the short field this week. New customers can also get a free £10 no deposit required bet with Sky Bet - perfect for covering off one of the favourites this week:
My final selections are as follows:
The ongoing battle for World No.1 honours took another turn at Riviera with Dustin Johnson assuming top spot for the first time in his career, however this week I'm happy to swerve DJ and instead back former No.1 Jordan Spieth whose long game over the past few months merits support on any track that remotely suits. It's clear to see that team Spieth have been actively working on improving the 23 year-old's tee-to-green game in recent times and that work is washing through to his stats and likewise his results. Finishes of 1/3/3/9/1/22 since the 2016 PGA Tour season ended have been fuelled by GIR performances in the top 20 each and every time and that makes someone like Spieth, who's so devastating with the putter when anywhere near the top of his game, a huge danger every time he plays. 22nd on his last start at Riviera was from the wrong side of the draw and can be excused to a certain degree and I suspect this scoreable, tree-lined affair will suit him down to the ground.
The speedy bent/poa putting surfaces here don't concern me with Jordan - indeed he got the poa annua monkey off his back in some style at Pebble Beach on his penultimate start with a 1.67 putting average (2nd in the field) on his way to victory. In an event where maximising opportunities from immaculate approach play is likely to be one of, if not the key ingredient, then 1st for GIR, 1st for strokes gained approach to the green and 3rd for fairway proximity all bode very well - particularly if he starts rattling in the mid-length putts with regularity this week which we know he can do with aplomb. In terms of altitude, Spieth was 8th at altitude at Cherry Hills in 2014 and reached the Quarter Final of the World Matchplay so he also clearly 'gets the math'.
We know from Jordan's record at Augusta that he thrives on classical, tree-lined set-ups with speedy greens. The key difference here is the altitude which shortens the course, however if that means that Spieth gets more looks at birdie from short-to-mid range this week then there's no player I'd rather be backing to sink enough putts to win here.
I looked long and hard at Justin Rose this week given he's notched 3 top-4 finishes in his last 4 starts, however his record at altitude on both sides of the Atlantic is a little off-putting and instead I'm happy to back a resurgent Sergio Garcia who has an excellent record at the Omega European Masters (19/3/1/4/6 over 5 attempts) and also finished 2nd at Sun City in 2013 to prove his altitude credentials. After a turbulent few years in terms of his personal life, Sergio recently got engaged to former Golf Channel reporter Angela Akins and with 3 wins globally in a little over 12 months it's clear to see that his game has taken a step forward as a result, "I think that when things are going well off the golf course it's much easier to feel comfortable on a golf course, because there's no worries. There's no worries outside and you can concentrate on what you're doing out there on the course."
As always with Garcia, when he's playing well he can be incredibly impressive from tee-to-green meaning that anything approaching an average performance with the putter is going to see him close to contention pretty much wherever he tees it up. After securing his 12th career European Tour title last month in Dubai, he headed to America where a tie for 49th at the Genesis Open (9th for ball-striking) and 14th last week at the Honda (2nd for ball-striking) suggests to me that his game is just about ready for another big performance. 7 top-7 finishes in this event over the years on various tracks tells me that he's quite comfortable with this level and with 22 Major top-10 finishes to his name over the years perhaps there's still time for him to take that next step and secure one or other (or both) of the WGC/Major accolades before his career's through.
As well as Garcia's win at Crans, the Spaniard also has tangible form at the tree-lined Valderrama where he boasts an incredible form line of 7/5/7/7/2/2/2/34/4/10/1/3 over the years and he also has a decent enough record at Wentworth which includes making the final in 2002 HSBC World Match Play and finishing 5th in the PGA Championship in 2000. If Sergio putts well this week he goes close in my opinion.
With his current form of 2/6/20/MC/5/2 stretching back to the OHL Classic at Mayakoba here in Mexico, Gary Woodland is worth taking a chance on this week at 50/1. Whilst he never got quite close enough to Rickie Fowler to really put the pressure on last weekend, Woodland to his credit didn't fade away under the pressure and finished a creditable 2nd to move up to 7th in the FedEx Cup standings despite not having bagged the victory that his long game has suggested has been coming for a few months now.
All-round rankings of 3rd (OHL Classic), 2nd (Sony Open), 3rd (Pebble Beach) and 1st (Honda Classic) have been fuelled by some superb ball-striking performances as well as ranking 1st for Total Driving on his last 2 starts. "Yeah, obviously I'm happy with the way I'm playing. Frustrating because I gave myself a lot of chances," he said after finishing last week, "I hit good putts, and sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't. I'm happy with the way I'm playing, and looking forward to playing the next couple weeks in a row."
Both of Woodland's PGA Tour victories hold some relevance to this week as his maiden success came on the tight, tree-lined track Copperhead course in 2011 plus his 2013 victory in Reno was on the altitude track at Montreaux G&CC which also features bent/poa greens. With his game in good shape at present, another reward for each-way punters isn't out of the equation - even in this quality of field.
Finally I'm going to take a small punt on Matthew Fitzpatrick here this week on a track that should suit his game down to the ground. Last week's tailed-off effort at PGA National can be excused as I think Matt prefers an event where it's far less of a grind; instead a short, scoreable, tree-lined affair is much more up his alley. 5th in Dubai playing in the hullabaloo of the Tiger Woods group before jetting off to America is a far stronger representation of where his game is right now and 7th for driving accuracy, 3rd for GIR and 3rd all-round that week suggests to me that his game is in a pretty good place right now.
With a game based on accuracy it was no real surprise when the Sheffield lad got over the line for the first time on the European Tour at Woburn at the end of 2015, taming that tree-lined layout with an assured performance coming down the stretch. Since that point he's proven that he's far from a one trick pony though with victory on the long Nordea Masters track at Bro Hof Slott as well as pipping Tyrrell Hatton to the DP World Tour Championship title last November in Dubai. Very different tracks on a variety of putting surfaces which tells me that this is a player who's destined to win a decent number of titles over the next decade or two, however his core strength is still accuracy and that will serve him well here this week. 2nd and 7th at the altitude of Crans-Sur-Sierre on another short, fiddly track is noteable, as has been his putting performance on the small bent/poa greens there where he's ranked inside the top-10 for putting average on both of those occasions. 7th at Augusta last year where he topped GIR is impressive too on the speedy greens there in elite company and with 2 further victories under his belt since that point, for me it's only a matter of time before he seriously contends for a WGC or Major.